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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Why Clay could be Saint Emilion’s cornerstone – Chateau Laroze

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the third in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

Sands over Chalky Clay at Laroze

We are always told that Chalky Limestone is the soil to look out for as it produces the best wines. However, I had my eyes opened when visiting Chateau Laroze. At this Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe it is ‘all about Clay’. As a farmer’s daughter, I’m well aware that Clay is rich in nutrients; you can grow crops beautifully on it provided you manage drainage properly. What I didn’t know is that Clay is produced from degraded Limestone that has been smashed into fine deposits over the millenia. In soil science Clay has a property that is much sought after. It has a very high CEC (Citation Exchange Capacity) which allows the soil to bring more nutrients into the vines.

The vineyard at Laroze lies across the foot of a gentle slope on the famous Saint Emilion Limestone plateau. The ground is made up of a sandy surface (Silica) over Chalky Clay sub soil (named ‘Marne de Castillon’). A 2-metre-deep layer of Clayey soil extends all over the vineyard. At Laroze a clever, deep drainage system runs metres underground; radically transforming the soil’s ability to drain and putting a stop to Clay’s tendency to water-logging and compacting.

Laroze’s owner, Guy Meslin, says the terroir here is interesting for wine: ‘Silica brings elegance, and Clay brings structure’. Beautifully spoken, educated, and supremely at ease amongst his vines, Guy Meslin is a charming and erudite man. He’s what I’d call a ‘hand’s on’ owner – the chateau is his life. Guy says, smiling, that ‘he belongs to the chateau’, not the other way around.

Clay may be the keystone of Laroze but Guy Meslin is its rock.

Chateau Laroze, Saint Emilion Grand Cru Classe

Guy inherited Laroze from his father and is a direct descendant of the chateau’s founder Nelly Gurchy. The Gurchys are an old Saint Emilion family who can trace their roots all the way back to 1610 when they were making wine at Mazerat, half a mile away from what was to become Laroze. Nelly’s husband, Georges, was a wine merchant and part-owner of Chateau Yon Figeac at one point in time. Widowed at the age of 46 in 1880, Nelly purchased three litle vineyards in 1882-1883: Camus La Gommerie (from the large estate of Chateau La Gommerie that was broken up after the French Revolution), the neighbouring vineyard of Lafontaine and also that of Chateau Camus. The vineyards were amalgamated and still sit in a complete block today (this is unusual in Saint Emilion where vineyards tend to be fragmented and scattered). The chateau, vat rooms and cellars were built in 1885 and Nelly named it Laroze (thanks to her love of roses).

Nelly certainly had a plucky spirit, she was quite an entrepreneur for the time especially as most businesses back then were run by men. She had a good eye for terroir – Laroze’s 65 acres are surrounded by those of Chateaux Yon Figeac, Clos des Jacobins and Premier Crus Beausejour Becot, Beausejour Duffau Lagarrosse and Angelus.

Lady Laroze, the Third Wine of the chateau

Jump forward in time to the 1920s and the property was once again under a woman’s influence. Guy’s grandmother, Andrée, took over along with her husband Dr. René Meslin. Guy has great respect for Andrée as she worked tirelessly to ensure Laroze would survive so that she could hand it down to her children. Without her, Laroze would not have existed today. In 2011 Guy created a Third Wine, named Lady Laroze, in honour of both Nelly and Andrée.

After the Second World War, the estate was passed to Georges Meslin, Guy’s father, and in 1955 Laroze gained the status of Grand Cru Classe. Guy took over in 1980 and Laroze has continued to grow in quality. He instigated a biodynamic system 1991 – 1998 but switched to organic thereafter. Work on putting in the deep drainage network under the vines began in 1997 and was completed in 2002. Guy checks the collection point fed by the water from the vineyard drains to help calculate the hydric stress on the vines.

Chai at Laroze

Guy has also upped the density of the vines to 10,000 vines per hectare. This is very high and the reasoning behind this is that it stresses the vines. You might think that a stressed vine is a bad thing but in fact it’s the reverse. Vines grown tighter together in high densities have to compete with each other. They create stronger, deeper roots; develop smaller grapes and make less foliage. All the vine’s vigour goes into surviving. Deep roots ensure the vine sucks up every piece of nutrient it can locate. Less foliage means that the vine can focus on producing its grapes rather than leaves and tendrils. The grapes these vines produce may be small but they are concentrated; packed with goodness . . . perfect for making great wine. The only downside I can see is that you get lower yields but it’s a sacrifice winemakers make in order to achieve a top-quality product.

Guy Meslin with the barrels

The other change at Laroze that Guy has instigated is to increase his Cabernet Franc. The vineyard is planted with 68% Merlot, 26% Cabernet Franc and 6% Cabernet Sauvignon. Whilst standing in the sunshine in the vineyard Guys tells me that in the past Laroze grew more Cabernet Franc but these were pulled out and replaced with Merlot in the 70s. Now the reverse is happening and Guy is replacing his Merlot with Cabernet Franc, hoping to increase the percentage from 26% to 40%. He believes Cabernet Franc has been long neglected and deserves to be developed. Like Merlot, Cabernet Franc favours Laroze’s deep, cool Clay. It’s a grape that has an ancient foothold in Saint Emilion; it’s been grown here since the 1700s.

I had to smile at Guy scrutinising a grape plucked from the ripening Cabernet Franc vines. This close to harvest he tastes his grapes daily for ripeness. Giving his vines a wistful glance he turns and we head towards his chai. Steam is emitting from oak barrels being cleaned within and the heady perfume of fermenting wine is delicious. There are various sizes of barrels here and I asked why some were so large. Guy tells me that larger barrels have less surface contact with the wine inside and the different sizes give different nuances of oakiness to the maturing wine. The rows of barrels in the chai all sit on strips of earth in between the flooring so that they have contact with the humidity of the soil.

Chateau Laroze

In 2009 Guy invited Hubert de Boüard de Laforest of Chateau Angelus to join his technical team at Laroze to help build a higher profile with journalists, wine importers and distributors worldwide. Since then Laroze has become better known and its popularity is growing. Deservedly so. Nick has made frequent mention of Laroze on his blogs during his En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux as a wine to look out for.

Wine critics often mention the underlying minerality of Laroze in their tasting notes, Robert Parker in particular. Medium bodied but rich, layered and fresh, the vintages of Laroze I tasted were classic Saint Emilion in style; laced with ripe black Morello cherry, dried herbs and roasted coffee beans. Laroze is also an extremely good price for a Grand Cru Classe (circa £19 – £23 a bottle depending on the year). They say wines often reflect the qualities of their makers and in Laroze’s case it’s true. Still waters run deep – beneath Guy’s gentle conversation runs a fountain of knowledge. And beneath the serene surface of Laroze there is a great deal to discover.

NB Whilst at Laroze we also tasted wines from the surrounding area over a lovely lunch. Details and tasting notes will follow in the next blog in the series.

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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Talent spotting for the future – Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montesquieu.

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the third in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

Chateau Fougeres Clos Montesquieu

There are some amazing places tucked away in Bordeaux that turn out to be quite a revelation. If you’re a follower of this blog you’ll have often heard Nick refer to ‘Cinderella’ chateaux that have risen from the shadows of obscurity to bask in new found glory. Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montequieu is no Cinderella; if anything it is a ‘Sleeping Beauty’.

Newly awoken by Dominique Coutière, owner of Biolandes, this chateau has an aristocratic past and a bright future.

I was keen to visit the chateau for three reasons: the first being its wine (which is fairly new on the market – the first vintage under new ownership was in 2012), the second being its connection to Biolandes (a company which produces and supplies essential oils and extracts for perfumes and aromatherapy) and the third being its connection to Montesquieu (the French philosopher).

Side view of the chateau

The drive up to the chateau swings through a small park spaced with well-placed specimen trees. The grounds had a peaceful atmosphere and I had to resist the urge to explore – there was a feeling that made you think discoveries lay behind each new view. I shouldn’t have been surprised at such graceful settings for the gardens were developed by the Bordelaise nurseryman Jean Alphonse Escarpit (1829 – 1899) who helped to design the Jardin Public park in Bordeaux. The gardens had a note of familiarity, probably because Escarpit followed the ‘English-style’. He liked sweeping curves, bousquets (little groves) and the different tones of green and blue you can find in the foliage of trees and water. You get all of these at Chateau des Fougeres – the land gently undulates down from the chateau with trees standing like islands in the close-cropped turf. There are signs of old water features in the grounds and I wished I could have wandered about outside more. It’s very beautiful.

However the task in hand was a tasting of Graves and Pessac Leognan whites and reds held inside the chateau. Rather fitting as it happens, as Montesquieu was an ambassador for the local Graves wines – he did much to build their reputation throughout France and in Britain. Born into an aristocratic family Montesquieu was a lawyer, philosopher and satirist and became the first great French man associated with the Enlightenment. His theories later became an important part of the American Constitution.

Front view of the chateau

Inside, the chateau houses the Montesquieu’s family heritage and its decor hasn’t been altered in any way. When Dominique Coutière bought the chateau from Baron Montesquieu in 2010 he promised not to change anything. He did have to modernise the plumbing, electrics and heating systems. The pavillion tower roof held a huge water tank which fed down to household but this had to be removed because it leaked and flooded the house out. The central heating system was quite innovative for the time and was an oven in the cellars that piped hot air up to the floorboards above! The house is full of Second Empire furnishings and we were given a little tour round the rooms. Although steeped in history it still felt very much a family home.

Gaston de Montesquieu extended the chateau during the Second Empire

Chateau des Fougeres belonged to Montesquieu’s brother. Montesquieu himself lived a stone’s throw away at neighbouring Chateau La Brede and its said that two brothers used to wave at each other from the balconies on their chateaux. The estate is an old one, dating back to the 1500s, and is on the site of a medieval castle known as Milheras in the local dialect. The current chateau was once a Carthusian monastery and Gaston de Montesquieu used it as a hunting lodge. He was responsible for converting the rectangular charterhouse into the building we see today. He also gave it the name of Chateau des Fougeres – a French translation of Milheras, meaning ‘Chateau of the Ferns’. It’s always been a wine producing property and in 1756 it was owned by a Bordeaux wine merchant until it was brought back into the Montesquieu family fold in 1867. Gaston increased the size of the vineyard to nearly 200 acres and planted it with Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. Today the vineyard covers 35 acres and is planted with Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.

Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montesquieu, Graves

Dominique has the reputation of a man not used to doing things by half and is very ambitious for Chateau des Fougeres, in which he has invested heavily. The winemaking installations are constantly being improved in order to yield a product that is faithful to its soil and to its history.

The consultant oenologist who works with them on their reds is world renowned Stephane Derenoncourt and their whites are made by Olivier Bernard’s top flight team at Domaine de Chevalier nearby.

Dominique’s jump from essential oils to wine isn’t an odd leap to make. Perfume and wine have a lot in common: both rely on the ‘nose’ of their creator, be it the perfumier or the wine maker, and both use a process of transformation – from grape to wine and from flower petal to essence. There are plenty of precedents in Bordeaux; the most notable being Chateau Rauzan Segla which is held by the owners of the perfume ‘Chanel‘ and Chateau Smith Haut Lafitte’s ‘Caudalie’, which has a range of perfumes inspired by the fragrance of the grape flowers and vines.

Grand Vin label

Chateau des Fougeres produces two reds: Chateau des Fougeres Clos Montesquieu, AOC Graves and their Second Wine Rouge Fougeres (which translates as Red Fern). Being recently born (the final improvement plans for the vineyard come into effect this year, 2017) neither of these wines are much known in Europe and are only available at a few outlets. However, the world’s critics have already taken note and the 2012 vintage of the Grand Vin received a score of 92/100 from James Suckling and won a Silver Medal at the Concours de Vins d’Aquitaine.

Sleeping Beauty has awoken and although its price is reasonable at the moment (circa £15 – £20) I’d expect it to rise as word gets out.

Chateau Couhins Lurton Blanc, Pessac Leognan

Whites to note:
We tasted a range of wines in the airy dining room watched over by portraits hanging on old, red, faded silk wall-papered walls. I couldn’t help wondering if the resplendent gentlemen crowned with powdered wigs depicted in the pictures above us had quaffed the same wines long ago. They would have probably been astounded at the seriousness involved in tastings nowadays.

Chateau Le Sartre Blanc, Graves

The stand out white wine for me was Chateau Couhins Lurton – a pure Sauvignon Blanc from Graves. It was exquisite. My tasting notes on this white were circled with stars; it was by far the best white I tasted on the tour. The price is circa £20 – £25 a bottle. This chateau is part of a portfolio owned by the negociant Andre Lurton and their charming export director Laurent Belisaire had also brought Chateau La Louviere along for us to taste – another lovely white at around £18 – £20 a bottle. A branch of the large Lurton wine making dynasty, Andre Lurton’s portfolio is well worth looking at and you can find a list of their chateaux here.

I also enjoyed the white from Chateau Le Sartre. It was very modern in style and so fresh it reminded me of a white Burgundy; minerally and full of zesty green apple. Le Sartre was a well-known chateau in the 19th century and was rediscovered in the late seventies by the Perrin family, owners of Chateau Carbonnieux. It sits on good terroir between Chateau des Fougeres and Domaine de Chevalier in the Pessac Leognan AOC. Both red and white vary from £12 – £20 a bottle depending on the vintage and supplier.

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Alert on Loire White Wine Shortage

If you are a fan of Loire White Wines you may find they are increasingly difficult to get hold of at a sensible price in 2017 . . .

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The Loire has seen the worst frosts in decades

The big freeze in France last spring saw the worst frost for 25 years. The Loire’s trade body, InterLoire, confirmed that there will be serious problems obtaining Loire wines and that there is growing concern over stock levels.

High consumer demand and a smaller harvest means there is less wine to go round. Thanks to the drop in production prices are set to soar.

Appellations in the Loire that were affected are:

Muscadet,
Pouilly Fume,
Chinon,
Sancerre,
Saint-Nicolas-de-Bourgueil
Touraine
Pays Nantais

Although great swathes of the Loire were affected damage was very hit and miss depending on the micro-climates in each vineyard. Muscadet and Pouilly Fume were amongst the worst affected. Some wine makers lost up to 80% of the crop in Pouilly Fume but most losses in general were between 20-30%. The worst hit regions have said it has been a catastrophe. However appellations such as Cabernet d’Anjou, Rose d’Anjou, Cremant de Loire and Vouvray suffered less and should be able to meet demand.

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Champagne saw snow in April

One of the issues leading on from the frost damage has been the outbreak of Coulure (the dropping of flowers resulting in less grapes on a cluster), Millerandage (poor fertilisation resulting in small, seedless shot grapes) and Rot. Unusually the Sauvignon Blanc was affected, which is quite rare. Coupled with the drought in July/August all these issues have compounded the difficulties in harvesting good quality grapes, resulting in very reduced yields.

The Loire was not the only region to be affected by severe frost – Burgundy suffered its worst frost since 1981 with hailstorms leading to disaster in Chablis and Beaujolais. One Beaujolais wine maker said that the weather had been so awful ‘all that was missing was a plague of frogs’. Champagne has suffered too with snow falling in April and in the south Languedoc vineyards in Pic St Loup north of Montpellier were hit by hail stones the size of golf balls.

Official figures from the Ministry of Agriculture show 2016 as one of the worst years in three decades, with production down one third in Champagne and other key wine regions like Burgundy and the Loire valley almost as badly hit.

Thankfully we have excellent relationships with our producers and recently introduced three thrilling Loire Whites to the UK (details below). We are accepting orders on our website but if you would like to reserve some for yourselves by pre-ordering please contact me directly at nick.stephens@www.bordeaux-undiscovered.co.uk.

Les Roitelieres Muscadet, Sèvre et Maine – Silver Medal £9.99

les_roitelieres_muscadetNewly introduced to the UK by Bordeaux-Undiscovered, this refreshing silver medal winning Muscadet comes from the Sèvre et Maine, named for the two rivers which converge just outside Nantes near the Atlantic coast. This appellation is the most important region for high quality Muscadet. It lies near the far end of the Loire Valley and the climate is cooler here, dominated by the ocean. Crafted by the Loire specialists Bougrier, Les Roitelieres Muscadet is made from Melon de Bourgogne. This grape originated in Burgundy and is an offspring of Pinot Noir and a cousin of Chardonnay. The Bougrier vineyards lie in Le Pallet, one of three top Cru level villages on the banks of the river Sèvre.

Tasting Notes:
Clean, fresh, pure and racy; this style of wine makes Pinot Grigio hang its head in shame. Bright, appetizing flavours of lemon zest, green apple and pear with notes of lime blossom, freshly cut hay and anise. Beautifully delicate with flinty minerality and a hint of iodine. A classic wine to drink with oysters; it rivals Chablis when it comes to food pairing with shellfish.

Les Champs des Cris, Pouilly Fume, 2015 £15.99

Exclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered, Les Champs de Cris comes from the vineyards on rolling terrain near Boisgibault and embodies all the qualities of this venerated appellation. Pouilly Fume is famous for its universally recognisable aromas of smoke and wet slate; it’s one of the Loire’s most venerated wines. The little appellation sits around the town of Pouilly sur Loire opposite Sancerre on the bank of the upper Loire, close to Burgundy. The smoky aroma is attributed to the local terroir. The most famous soils here are Kimmeridigian limestone containing fossilised oyster shells and limestone clays peppered with flints. The local name for Sauvignon Blanc is ‘fume’ (smoke) and the distinctive aroma is known as ‘pierre a fusil’ which refers to the smoky smell of a fired gun when the flint is struck.

Tasting Notes:
Delicious, elegant Pouilly Fume with characteristic flinty mineral and smoky notes. A delicately sculpted palate with a vibrant core of grapefruit, green apple and gunflint laced with white currant and chamomile. Vivacious, crisp and beautifully balanced. Lovely purity with a long finish. Good cellaring potential.

Domaine Millet. Sancerre, 2015 £15.99

domaine_millet_sancerreExclusive to Bordeaux-Undiscovered this superb Sancerre is made by the Bougrier family who have specialized in the wines of the Loire Valley since 1885 (over 5 generations). The head of the family, Noel Bougrier, has long been an ambassador for Loire Valley wines and is president of the Syndicat of Loire Valley negociants. Their Sancerre vineyards lie on the chalky limestone hills looking down on the River Loire and its tributary the River Cher. Sancerre sits directly opposite the appellation of Pouilly Fume in the eastern part of the Loire. The town lies on an outcrop of the chalk that runs from the White Cliffs of Dover across to Champagne and on to Chablis in Burgundy. The Domaine Millet Sancerre is made from grapes grown on the area known as ‘Terres Blanches’ (the white ground) which refers to the layer of white fossil strewn soil covering the limestone slopes that gives this wine its deliciously dry chalky character.

Tasting Notes:
Citrusy, chalky Sancerre with remarkable depth. Cool, crisp and pure. Deep aromas of blackcurrant blossom with subtle herbaceous hints of lemongrass and lovage. Fresh flavours of lime, gooseberry and melon. Finely tuned, taut and vibrant with a lovely long lingering finish.

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What is Claret?

A customer recently contacted me after receiving his Claret and Cheese Gift Box querying that there was no mention of Claret on any of the bottle labels. The wines were Clarets so why don’t the French label them that? The reason is a simple one. Claret is the British name for Bordeaux Red Wine.

The only time you will see the word Claret on a label is when it has been specifically asked for by a British retailer as the French don’t refer to a Bordeaux Red Wine as Claret. Only the British do!

In the past Claret was much paler than today

The name Claret is derived from the word ‘Clairet’ which is what Bordeaux Reds were called back in the 13th century. We acquired a taste for them when Eleanor of Aquitaine married our Henry Plantagenet and they soon became our nation’s tipple of choice. Over time the British (who couldn’t get their tongue around the word ‘Clairet’) referred to them as Claret . . . which has now become the acceptable generic term for Bordeaux Red Wine.

You might be wondering why Bordeaux Reds were called Clairet way back then. Clairet means ‘clear’ in French and in those days Bordeaux Reds were much paler in colour than they are nowadays. Wine making techniques were fairly rudimentary in the past and wines were made quickly to avoid spoiling. During fermenting the grape skins (which contain the colour and tannins) were left only a short time in contact with the juice. These wines didn’t last long, and were usually drunk VERY quickly.

Over time Claret became darker

Jump forward a few hundred years to the 17th century and Bordeaux Reds started to get darker thanks to improved wine making techniques and barrel ageing. As time progressed Clarets became the deep red that we recognise today!

So, if you spot a Red Wine with AOC Bordeaux anywhere on the label, it’s a Claret!

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How to get the best out of Bordeaux Wine – Where the bee sips, there sip I. Why you should check out Petit Chateaux.

We sent Sarah, who deals with our research and development, to Bordeaux to check out new areas of interest. This is the second in this series of blogs about her voyage of discoveries . . .

bee-annicheYou might think that the famous chateaux of the Medoc have cornered the market as the trailblazers of Bordeaux wines but you’d be wrong. Beneath the parade of grand chateaux and their much fanfared labels lies a power-house of energetic smaller producers steadfastly working to create their own masterpieces. These producers don’t often get their wines trumpeted about in the British press; nor do they get flashy write ups about their splendid chateaux.

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Tasting room at Chateau Anniche

More often than not you’ll find the smaller producers’ wineries are part of an old farmhouse. You may not feel as if you are walking on hallowed ground when you visit one (there are no splendidly furnished rooms or imposing architecture to goggle at) but instead you are very much aware that you’re entering into the beating heart of a workplace. A place buzzing with purpose and vigour. There’s a strange timeless feeling pervading the atmosphere as you realise that these people are following the same path as their grandparents before them. This is a place of wine. And if you have got it right; it’s a place of very good wine indeed.

anniche-sign
Anniche lies at the north end of the Cadillac AOC

Chateau Anniche is such a place. My visit there turned out to be quite a revelation and it’s made a lasting mark on me. We visited Anniche on Day 1 of my trip to Bordeaux and were still acclimatising to the intense heat. Stepping out from the blazing sunshine into the cool sanctuary of the little tasting room we were greeted by Lyndsey and Jean Luc Pion, and their son Pascal, the Maitre de Chai.

anniche-maitre
Pascal Pion – Maitre de Chai

Chateau Anniche is such a place.  The Pion family have been making wines at Anniche since Napoleonic times and made their own wine barrels up until 1914. You can see that beyond the neat, whitewashed winery and ultra modern chai much older buildings sit clustered about. The land here stretches away under blue skies over ranks of vines growing on clay and limestone soil containing siliceous rock (quartz, chalcedony and flint).

anniche-vines
Vineyard at Anniche

Anniche is located in Haux right at the north end of the Cadillac appellation which sits along the right bank of the River Garonne. The Pessac Leognan appellation is directly opposite Haux on the other side of the river. Haux is known for its 12th century romanesque church and was on the ancient route of the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. The wonderful Abbey of La Sauve Majeure, just over a mile up the road from Anniche, was an important monastery and major halt for pilgrims up until the French Revolution.

Haux is a quiet place today though – few vehicles travel the road – and at Anniche the silence was only broken by the drone of bees and grass hoppers in the vineyard.Lyndsey keeps bees and the hives lie on the edge of the acacia wood and along the flowery meadows. Their honey is sold locally either direct from the cellar or via the Tourism Office and markets of Cadillac and Creon. Bees aren’t the only creatures in the vineyards, there are chickens and pigs – as well as visitors such as cattle egrets and roe deer. In 2014 tawny owls took up temporary residence in the chai.

pascal-olaf
Pascal and Olaf

Lyndsey tells me that the family think that the place name ‘Anniche’ is derived from a parcel of vines belonging to the property called ‘la niche’. ‘La niche’ in old French refers to a place where animals were sheltered. On looking up the origins of the word ‘niche’ I had to smile as in the 14th century it meant ‘dog kennel or recess (for a dog)’ and this is rather fitting . . . as Pascal’s loyal companion is Olaf, the wine dog. Olaf is a giant, he is huge! I think he must be a Leonberger – a massive, lion-like, breed of working dog. Lion-like he may be, with his shaggy mane and sandy coat, but he is gentle and pines when Pascal has to leave him. When we trooped into the Pion’s tasting room he stretched his vast body out and bowed a greeting, had a friendly sniff and pat on the head from everyone, and then accompanied us on our tour of the chai and vineyard.

Olaf
Olaf

The Pion’s vines cover an area of 72 hectares (177 acres) and are planted with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc for their red wines. Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon and Muscadelle are grown for their dry and sweet whites. Some of their Semillon vines are 122 years old. Pascal says that in the old days the whole village only ever produced sweet whites. Semi Sweet whites (moelleux) are Pascal’s passion but, as he says, you have to be a little nuts to make them. They are a labour of love; not only is Semillon the last grape to be harvested but it takes an inordinate amount of time to harvest it. Grapes have to be picked in order of ripeness and it can take an awful lot of grapes to make just one golden glass of sweet wine. To give you an idea, it’s said in Sauternes that Chateau d’Yquem produces only one glass of wine per vine.

The Pion’s pure nectar:

Anniche's Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort
Anniche’s Bordeaux Moelleux: Chateau Haut Roquefort

Having tasted Pascal’s sweet white, Chateau Haut Roquefort (made from 100% Semillon), I can well understand his passion. It’s beautiful . . . a dark honied colour, tasting of nectar with a twist of bitter orange. Full of zesty acidity in the mouth, this style of wine is far from sticky or cloying . . . as my companions from the wine trade found out. Moelleux turned out to be one of their highlights and proved to be a real eye opener for some.

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Chateau Haut Roquefort

Sweet white Bordeaux has hit the foodie radar recently with all sorts of delicious pairings being suggested, however I can’t wait to try Chateau Haut Roquefort with its namesake – the blue cheese Roquefort. It’s the classic partner for this style of wine. It could be a marriage made in heaven.

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Chateau Anniche Blanc

The dry white, Chateau Anniche, is also predominantly Semillon but is blended with Sauvignon Blanc which brings a certain freshness and Muscadelle which adds potent floral aromas. I found it to be very smooth; quite a deep wine with flavours of lychee laced with lemon. I asked Lyndsey if she would send samples so that Nick could taste their range and he was most impressed. The dry white Chateau Anniche’s quality was so good Nick placed it on a par with the dry whites being produced from the Sauternes Grands Crus Classes. Needless to say these fashionable whites carry an expensive price tag; whereas Anniche’s dry white does not.

anniche-rose
Anniche’s Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric

The Pion’s also produce a brilliant Rose: Chateau Lalande Meric. On such a brutally hot day this was certainly the most refreshing wine from their range – a pale salmon pink, delicately tasting of strawberry with melony undertones. As a taster you have to swirl, sip and spit . . . this was one of those wines that made me regret having to do so. We didn’t drink it chilled but it was so balanced and smooth it made me wish I could sit there in the shade and sup the lot.

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Chateau Lalande Meric

Pascal talked of how Bordeaux Rose has changed over the past few years. Of course the Bordelaise have been making it for centuries but these days the demand is for paler and paler Rose. This is something Nick commented on in January (see What wines to watch out for in 2016 – Are our tastes changing?) and Pascal said that whereas they used to let the Rose soak on the must for 2 – 4 days (to soak up colour and flavour from the grapes) now they only allow 2 – 4 hours. The trick here is to achieve a wine with all the flavour and aroma that make it so attractive whilst keeping it on the must as short a time as possible to achieve the paler colour.

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Chateau Anniche Bordeaux Claret

The Reds are Premier Cotes de Bordeaux and were wines I was looking forward to tasting. Nick has already highlighted the fact that you can find good clarets around the Cadillac appellation and Anniche’s Reds have a lovely tannic backbone; tasting of blackberry and prune with mint overtones.

It just goes to show that there is so much more to Bordeaux if you scratch beneath the surface. The wines we see here on supermarket shelves aren’t representative of the Bordeaux the French know and love. We miss out on so many little treasures. I was over the moon that Chateau Anniche was the first winery visit on our trip as it is exactly the place that Nick looks out for: A small producer who tries to associate modernity with tradition, judiciously applying new scientific methods where they can to help mediate with Nature and the elements in order to produce delicious wines in complete harmony with the environment. It was wonderful to experience it for myself first hand and my only regret is that I forgot to buy a jar of their honey!

You can find Chateau Anniche’s website and they also have a great Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VignoblesPion/